FICTION

Doctor’s Oath

JOHN SHEPPARD October 1 1934
FICTION

Doctor’s Oath

JOHN SHEPPARD October 1 1934

Doctor’s Oath

FICTION

JOHN SHEPPARD

BEYOND THE RIVER June Trevellyan saw a thin, unwavering pillar of smoke that drifted lazily upward to the sky. It was strange, she thought, that an hour

ago, as she had helped to make the lire—piling together in a pyramid the sticks and bracken which Martin and David and the others had brought to her—she had not known that long before the ashes of it cooled she would have made her choice between those two. And at one time, of the two of them, David Lynton would have had first place.

Now, shading her eyes against the lowering September sun, she looked happily toward the fire. Against the wall of rock behind, the smoke showed blue; then, as the column of it topped the trees above, the color of it changed to white against the background of the cloudless sky. There were little figures round the lire, and one of them was David; and suddenly her happiness was changed to aching sorrow.

“Martin,” she said softly to the man who stood beside her, knee-deep in the heather of the moor.

“Yes,” he answered quietly.

"Let me tell David, please.”

“Darling”—she loved him for the understanding in his voice—"I was going to ask you to.”

For a minute, as they walked together side by side toward the river far below them in the rock-strewn valley, they were silent; each heavy with the knowledge that David Lynton must be watching them, guessing perhaps their news. And they were right, for as they crossed the tree-trunk which spanned the river in a bridge—Martin holding June’s backwardstretched hand, because the trunk was as polished as a wave-worn stone—there was not one among the picnic party on the river bank who did not understand that June Trevellyan had at last made her choice between two friends. But it was David Lynton who first came toward the rough-hewn steps below the tree and took June’s hand.

“Hullo, June,” he said; and then without a tremor in his voice: “Good luck, my dear.”

And afterward, when June was chosen captain of one side for a game of rounders in the field below the picnic place, it was David whom she took as her first choice; and when the sun

had set and all of them walked up the river bank toward their homes, the three of them walked back together, June between the men. Later, as they parted at the house where Lynton had his surgery, Martin Calder asked him to be best man.

“My dears,” said David Lynton, “I accepted that appointment as you two went off together after tea."

TN OCTOBER Lynton took a holiday to fish in Wales;

and it was Martin Calder who drove him to the station in his car. On the platform they walked together arm in arm, and only as the train came into sight did Martin mention June and his engagement.

“We’re being married in the spring,” he said. “We wanted you to be the first to know.”

“Daffodils are right for June,” said Lynton.

And as the train drew North, away from the heather and the laughing streams of Exmoor, June and Martin seemed to stand before his eyes. They were hand in hand, as they had been when they crossed the bridge; and, because he saw their happiness, he was content. At Bristol, where he had to change, he saw a wedding party on the platform waiting for another train; and for a moment he felt chilled and lonely. Then, because he would not lose them altogether, he thrust away self-pity and self-blame that he had never made a throw for Martin’s happiness; and turned his mind toward his friendship with them both.

In Wales, amid the peace and quiet of a valley lying deep within the shadow of a range of cloud-capped hills, he tried to discipline his love for June.

WHILE DAVID LYNTON fished in Wales and thought of June and Martin, she began to make and buy her trousseau; and into the little house beside the high stone bridge at Bartonford there came no whisper of the change which some had seen to come over Barton Hall since the day when June had chosen Martin on the moor. Walking with her beside the river now filling with the autumn rains, or trudging along the sunken lanes and through the dripping heather, or sitting opposite to her across the hearth inside the house beside the bridge, Martin was the same as he had always been. Only very gentle when he spoke of Lynton.

Yet in the village there were growing whispers and queer glances at them both. At her because she seemed to be so happy and so unaware; at Martin because his father was remembered.

Then, in the first week of November, David Lynton came back from Wales. As he arrived an hour latehe found his locum tenens waiting at the surgery door, anxious to commence his journey across the breadth of England to the East Coast town where he was due to take another place as locum on the following day. Rapidly they discussed the cases needing special care or explanation; and then, as Lynton stood beside the car, June's name was mentioned. “Do you know a Miss Trevellyan here?” the locum asked. “Yes,” said I )avid quickly, wondering and anxious at the other’s look of gravity.

"Then watch her, Lynton, if you can.”

Yet, though Lynton pressed him, he would say no more.

IN THE EVENING Lynton looked in, as he was passing, at the Barton Arms. Here, he thought, he would get news of all that had gone on while he had been away ; and, though it seemed unlikely, he might find some clue to solve the mystery of his locum's strange suggestion. He drank a glass of cider in the bar, and then sat down beside a window which overlooked the village street. Outside, a gentle drizzle had begun to fall, and through it he could dimly see the lights which shone from the uncurtained windows of the house beyond the bridge.

Then, as he watched, lie saw a figure cross the bridge and go toward the house. "Martin,” he thought: and envied

him his right.

Angry with himself that he had failed to sublimate his love, Lynton went toward the bar where men were talking; and over it he saw a colored print. Beneath it was a calendar, and a tradesman’s name was printed at the top; but it was the picture which caught and held his eye. In a slender vase of pale jade he saw’ a bunch of wild flowers—cornflower and red poppies that tumbled in a mass of com in ear. In his mind the picture was of June.

Then, as he tried to tum his thoughts away, considering his work and the chances of being called across the moor before morning to bring into the world the eleventh child of that drunken Matthew Saul ; or, revolting from that prospect, thinking of his holiday in Wales and of the sea trout he liad caught on his

last day, he heard June’s name again.

“Miss Trevellyan should ’a’ seen ’im as I saw ’¡m striding out along the lane,” said someone who was standing at the door. And another voice broke in.

“Like ’is father went 'e’s like to go, is Mr. Martin.”

And Lynton saw that it was Martin’s second keeper who had spoken last.

THAT NIGHT, as Lynton had reluctantly anticipated, the eleventh child of Matthew Saul was born ; and, after bearing it, his wife gave up her struggle. It seemed to Lynton, as he watched her slowly slip away downhill, that she was far too tired to want to live; that though her fragile beauty had not died, her will to cling to life had gone.

She lingered to the middle of November, waiting, so it seemed, until her last baby could afford to let her go. Then, quietly and without regret, she seemed content to die. But before she went she spoke of Martin and of her eldest son ; and afterward of Barton Hall and of the years before her marriage. Gradually she came to speak of Martin’s father and mother, in whose service she had been ; and at the end David Lynton understood two things—why she had married Matthew Saul, and something of the meaning of the whispers up at Bartonford.

“Doctor, look at Mr. Martin and then just look at my first boy, Jacob—him that’s working at the stables of the Hall. That’s why 1 let them marry me to Matthew,

That had been one night when he had sat beside her, thinking that the morning would see the end; but some unwilling spirit in her made her live to see the coming of another day. In the evening he had come again, and when he saw her then he knew it would be the last time. At last she spoke, but her words were almost lost.

"Poor Miss June—the sweet,” she said ; and then was silent for an hour. Then, as Lynton hovered on the verge of sleep, she raised herself in bed.

“Those eyes of his,” she cried and put her hands before her face. Exhausted, she let them drop, and tossed uneasily. Then she struggled back, as if she had to tell him something terribly important.

“It’s in them both—poor boys,” she said, and died.

That had been at nine, and it had been long after ten before Lynton faintly saw the lights of

Bartonford. The drizzle of the early evening had changed to teeming rain, and the river path was deep in pools and mud. Under the tree-trunk bridge, dark now with moisture instead of bleached and white as it had been when he had stood and helped June jump from it, a torrent of white water was fighting down the stream.

He crossed the tree and turned toward the village and the lights. Above him on his left-hand side the heather-covered hill was dim against the scudding sky; and as he watched, thinking of the woman in the cottage and her words, he saw that there was something black which moved toward him through the heather. For a moment he thought it was a

stag, but then he heard a voice—and it was singing. Quickly, as if warned that he would be unwise to meet this coming figure face to face, he moved within the shelter of a rock that lay beside the path; and in his hiding place he waited. He heard the voice grow stronger; and then, aghast, he pressed himself against the dripping rock. For, above the tumult of the wind and rain, he heard the words repeated; and he knew that it was Martin Calder who was coming, and that the song was awful and obscene in praise of June.

Yet, in the morning, Lynton tried to make believe that the whole episode had been a nightmare; for, on his rounds, driving in the crisp sunlight of the frosty day which followed

on the night of rain, he met Martin. A spaniel was at Martin’s heels and he was singing as he came—a very different song. Lynton waved to him and brought his car to rest; and Martin came and stood beside it with one foot upon the running board. His eyes were calm and almost tender.

“David, my old lad,” he said, “we fixed the day last night. April the twenty-second is the day we want you.”

As if it recognized the joy of Martin’s voice, the spaniel thumped a ragged tail in the road. The sun was warm, and a tiny breeze was stirring the high hedges that lined the sunken road. The horror of the night before was fantasy.

“I'll make a note of it,” said Lynton with a smile.

Then he drove on, trying to reconcile these two appearances of Martin within twelve hours—the man’s awful joy in June as he had come across the moor singing in his throat his vile obscenities; and this appearance of his real self when he was tender and her name had made him hush his voice in worship.

For a week the memory and tl'._' problem were a torture. Then, meeting Martin almost every day, Lynton made himself believe that their meeting on the moor had not been real; that it was some unreality sprung from the sick woman’s words as she had died. He was seeing June as often as he could—partly because the locum’s warning still remained with him, and partly because each week was bringing April nearer—but in her he saw no sign of anything but happiness.

Until December, when he came behind her on the stone bridge beside her home and touched her on the shoulder as he said her name. For a moment, as she turned to him, he thought he saw a flicker of quick fear; but the coming and the going of that sign were instantaneous. As she spoke to him she was her normal self; and, if she had felt fear, the subject of it was neither Martin nor yet her marriage, since immediately she spoke about her future plans.

"Martin,” she said, “is going to buy another car and we are going to tour France and Italy, and home across the Alps. Then, David, home and duty here. The house will be refurnished, and Martin’s going bathroom-mad. There’s only one, you know; a prehistoric thing his father had put in when he was married over thirty years ago.”

Despite that flash of fear which he had seen or imagined when he first spoke to her, Lynton had no qualms. She talked of Martin without a tremor in her voice; without a shadow on her face. Yet as December waned he knew that there were whisperings around the village of a more serious kind.

They centred on the death of Martin’s mother before her second

wedding anniversary; and on his father’s doings in the following year, which had ended with his mysterious drowning in the Bosphorous. A year of mystery, with Martin bringing home and filling up the Hall with foreign servants and unknown foreign guests; of nights when all the village watched the blazing windows of the house, wondering about the happenings inside; and of the equally precipitate retreats, until he came again with another and different set of guests and servants, who stayed and went without a single contact with the village.

But Martin seemed supremely unaware of all the talk, and June seemed happy still. Then, on Christmas Eve the whole nightmare blazed to life again for Lynton; for as he passed the stables of the Hall—using, as was his privilege, a short cut which saved him walking half a mile—he heard a

frightened whimpering inside. He stopped, thinking that a dog was caught in its own chain and wondering if he should go inside and loose it; but as he hesitated he heard a sudden shout. Then there followed vicious, heavy blows. Angrily he ran toward the double doors that closed the stable yard, but as he pulled at them there came a hideous peal of evil laughter, followed by a torrent of foul words; and, despite the change in it, he knew the voice was Martin's. Then there was silence though he could hear a gasping breathing, until another voice joined in.

“Go on, master, hit him once again.”

The doors were jeering down at Lynton as he fought the horror of the scene inside the yard and the evil of the thing that Martin did. Then, as he stood with twisted hands, with all the half-suggested stories he had heard about the father of the man inside seething in his mind, he heard Martin speak again. But all the savagery and evil that had made his voice a thing of horror were now gone. Now it was strained and almost like a child’s.

“What have I done?” he said; and there were tears in it.

'TMIAT EVENING, as Lynton passed the Barton Arms, he saw a group of men outside the door; and in the middle of them stood the eldest son of the woman who had died upon the moor and had spoken of her son and Martin. He was looking up toward the Hall, and in his eyes was wild excitement of some kind. Later, Lynton learned that Martin had dismissed the man that afternoon; and through the night and into Christmas Day he wrestled with his problem. In the afternoon he went to June, and begged her to postpone her wedding day.

"Why?” she asked, facing him as if she feared that he would strike her.

“I can’t tell you, June,” he said; and waited, hoping to find some words to take the misery and hardness from her face.

“Then can you tell us both?” she asked at last; and as she spoke she looked away from him.

"Can’t you trust me, June?” he said.

In answer she went toward the window and leaned her head against the pane; and Lynton knew that she only answered with no words because she knew he loved her. Then she came back to him and took his hand.

“Stay and talk to me,” she said, “but not of me and Martin.”

And there was in her eyes something of a child pleading.

That night Lynton learned that Martin had left the Hall, taking his old car; and for a week he stayed away. Then, in a new and shining car—the one which he was going to give to June and use u|xm their honeymoon—he came back again. And in that week Lynton came to know a lot about Martin’s father and of his mother’s death, and of her final words when she had died “Thank God; it’s finished now.” Part of it came from gossip at the Barton Arms and part from cottages about the moor; but, added all together, it made truth. And June was ignorant, or refusing to believe; and he—who loved her had only been forgiven because of all that there had been between them in the past. He blamed himself that he had feared to speak and tell her where she stood ; for by his useless warning he had only raised a wall between them.

Yet her attitude was scarcely changed, though under it Lynton felt that she was telling him that he had dangerously presumed; that only out of her pity for him because he had failed where Martin had achieved had she put behind her the memory of his words; behind her and forgotten—unless he was so foolish as to presume again.

THROUGH JANUARY and into February Lynton watched and waited, trying to |iersuade himself that he had dreamed a nightmare twice; for, clinically, he had no evidence. Anyone, he argued miserably, might sing a dozen wild words in mad praise of the woman who, at parting, had promised him to marry him within five months; and, though lie flinched from memory, anyone might thrash a disobedient dog. Then, as he tried to minimize what he had heard outside the stable door, he realized that he had never seen again the spaniel which Martin used to take on walks with him. After he had come back, bringing the new car, he had always had another one. Aching with the thought that a man whose self-control was so far gone that he could beat a favorite dog to death for now it looked as if the dog had died—Lynton planned to speak to Martin of the incident. He would mention it, pretending that he feared some groom or servant had been brutal. That night he forced himself to read a volume in his library on diseases of the mind; and his reading plunged him into further gloom.

Yet he made his opportunity, and watched the man whom June was going to marry in two months—his closest friend — pretend a shocked and vivid indignation as he heard what Lynton had to say.

“The swine,” said Martin. "I wonder who it was. He must have killed poor Lass. I haven’t cared to speak of it. She died the day I went away, but no one told me till I came back.” Then, with veiled eyes, he bent and stroked the new spaniel that was squirming at his feet. “Well look after you, old girl,” he said, and pulled a silky ear.

From that moment of deceit—conscious or unconscious as it was—Lynton knew that both professional duty and his

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love for June compelled him to move rapidly. But as he drove his mind to form some plan, he saw another ominous sign. Jacob Saul— son of the woman who had died; the man who had assisted Martin in the scene inside the stable yard; and, if the woman had spoken truly, Martin’s brother—was reinstated at the Hall. Now he was driving the new car, and letting it be known that he was going to accompany Martin on his honeymoon. For a while Lynton watched them both, wondering that no one guessed the I secret of their birth ; for since Christmas both of them had changed until their resemblance was more than faintly clear. And then he learned that he was wrong, and that there was not a cottage in the viilage in which the situation was not known, together with another fact—that the servant was the elder by three days.

MAKING THE EXCUSE that there was need to test the car before the Continental tour, the two of them were driving all day long; while Martin’s keepers shrugged their shoulders and, at his orders, shot his birds. And June looked on, still working at her trousseau, but with less happiness and zeal. Slowly the rumors in the village had reached the house beside the bridge; and, though she disbelieved them, they were affecting lier. Most, perhaps, in making her reluctant to meet David Lynton.

Slowly and against her will, her love for him —for she had always loved him, even when her sudden greater love for Martin had sprung to life—began to change to anger. She felt, and knew that she was being unreasonable, that lie had turned against them both. Yet, though lier fears were growing, they were still within control; for in the j evenings Martin was still coming to sit and j talk with her in the room where they liad I planned so much. But now he always talked ! about the past.

I Continually he spoke to her about his ! father, whom he had scarcely seen, and of his ! mother, who had died when he had been a I child in arms. Then he would go back Î farther and tell her of his ancestors—the first Calders who liad made a living in the j reign of Queen Elizabeth by privateering; j and of the first of all, who had lived at \ Fowey and was the strongest man in ] Cornwall,

I ‘‘Talk to me about ourselves,” she said

I “I daren’t,” he answered almost fearfully.

I "Something might come between us yet.” j "My dear,” she said, and suddenly she thought of David Lynton with real hatred, “it’s only two months now.”

I “Yes,” he answered. "Yes.”

And soon he left her, and as he went he took her in his arms and kissed her hungrily.

“Always trust me, June,” he said.

Then he tore himself away and crossed the bridge, but at the farther end of it she saw him turn toward the moor.

“Good night,” she called, and waved; but he walked on as if he had not heard.

A week later Lynton met a child who came toward the village weeping bitterly. He stopped and asked what the matter was; and learned that half a mile from the village two men had driven at his dog and killed it. Lynton gave the child a penny and used his handkerchief to dry his tears, and then round a comer came Martin’s shining car.

“That’s the one that did it,” wept the child.

“Well, we must see what we can do to find another dog for you,” said Lynton; and he watched the car skid the comer to the Hall.

“But they laughed because it didn’t die at once; and then they frightened me away; and afterward ...”

Tears stopped the words; and only after Lynton had had the child on his knee, and found him sweets and promised him another dog, did he learn the way in which the dog was killed. Then with hard anger in his heart that he should have to do the thing which lay before him, he went to June. For a short minute she listened to his story and then she held the door.

“Dr. Lynton, you must go,” she said. “And only for Martin’s sake shall he not

“June . . . ” he pleaded.

“Yes—June in public still.” She paused and caught her lip between her teeth. “Oh, David, I once loved you.”

Outside the entrance to the Hall, as Lynton passed, was Martin with the child; and they were whispering. And afterward the child ran away with something in his hand, and the promise of two new dogs to comfort him.

TUNE’S ANSWER to the village and to J Lynton was that on the following Sunday the banns were called, and the wedding day was changed. And, by reason of her loyalty to the promise she had made to him, David Lynton was still to be best man. Indeed, there was no outward reason for a change, and once again Lynton asked himself if he were not the victim of complete delusion. There was nothing in Martin’s mien— except the subtle change about his eyes and face—to justify the thought that he was heading down the hill to madness; nothing but the separated episodes of the night upon the moor, the beating of the spaniel and the killing of the child’s dog. Yet it had been

precisely on those lines that his father had commenced his wild career which finished in the sea.

On the next Sunday the banns were called again; and in the week which followed Martin spent each evening walking on the moor. And every day he called at Lynton's surgery to beg him to come with him; but only twice could Lynton go. On the second of those nights, as they were walking home, with Martin telling Lynton of his plans for the improvement of the shooting and the fishing at the Hall, they met the chauffeur going to his father's house. He touched his cap and made some comment on the weather; but after he had passed Lynton dropped his cigarette to give him an excuse to tum. And, fifty yards away, he saw the man, and he was watching them.

“Martin,” said Lynton as they walked on, "that chap looks queer to me. I wonder if his heart's all right for driving."

And suddenly there came to Martin’s eyes that crafty look which Lynton feared.

“Oh, he’s all right,” he said; and walked on for half a mile without another word. Then he turned to Lynton with a smile. “Can you keep next Thursday evening free?” he said. 'Tm giving a last bachelor party at that pub this side of Eddlescombe.”

“Not at the Arms?” asked Lynton with surprise.

“If I had it in the village I’d have to ask a thousand people in, and that would spoil everything. At eight, old man. I'm fixing up a special license and a private room.”

FOR THREE HOURS the party followed the usual course of parties given in the week before a wedding by the coming bridegroom. In the smoke-filled room, a dozen men drank and sang and talked about the fish they had caught and of the birds which they had shot. As the evening lengthened the trout became the size of little salmon, and the birds had met their death at ranges which were more and more remarkable. Only Martin, as Lynton saw, s]X)ke little nor drank at all.

At eleven o’clock the storms of rain which since the previous afternoon had swept across the moor ceased, and one by one the guests began to leave until the party was reduced to three Lynton, whom Martin had begged to stay until the end, another man, and Martin. Then, as Martin paid the bill, another furious storm of rain came sweeping down across the hills.

“Lord," he said, “I’m not driving home through this. Besides, this smoke has made me thirsty.”

And as he sent for beer, he saw his chauffeur sitting in the parlor of the house.

“Here, come in with us," he said, “and drink my health and Miss Trcvellvan’s.” The man came in and took a seat beside the fire, while Martin filled his glass.

"There,” he said, "you won't get much beer next week. It's wine we'll drink out

“Here’s to the bride,” said Jacob Saul, and rose. “And to the lucky man who's got her.” And as he spoke his eyes were fixed on Martin's as if he waited for some sign. For a moment Martin appeared to hold himself in check, then seemed to fail. He gave a high-pitched laugh and sat down by the fire.

“I haven’t got her yet," he said. “That's the fun we’re going to have on Tuesday, you and I.”

Although his voice had not been raised it cut right through the room; and, suddenly, while Lynton turned to listen, the two men at the fire stretched out their hands.

“Brother mine,” said Martin, “I’ll tell you what we're going to do . . . ”

Then, as if some force inside him was compelling him to utter them, there came from Martin Calder’s mouth a string of wild obscenities concerning June; and, as he spoke, he rocked himself from side to side. And for five minutes Lynton listened in an agony. Then he crossed the room, and took

the arm of Jacob Saul and dragged him to ' his feet.

“Get out," he said, and pushed him to the

Then he turned to Martin.

“Come home, old man," he said. “You’re !

“Drunk?” said Martin as he stood up beside the fire. "I'm not.” And then he put his hands across his eyes and cried.

In the following half hour, as Martin wept and stormed about the room, Lynton faced his problem finally. Everything that Martin did and said was proof of what he feared. There were periods when the man was fighting for control, and periods when his mind was grovelling back toward the past; i when he seemed to think that he was his own f father. Then his mind would leap back to the present to speak in horror of all his father did; and, streaking of him, he tried to force his wax' toward the drxir, because, he said, his elder brother ought to hear. Then he seemed to be back in the stableyard when Lynton had been standing at the gates. Finally he stopped as if a curtain had come down across his mind, and faced Lynton— looking at him and at the other man as if he had not known that they were there.

“I’m going home, I think,” he said, and ran toward the door; and for half a dozen traces Lynton followed him. Then he stood quite still; for as Martin started up the engine he swung the car around, and through the thrashing of the rain Lynton heard his words:

“Good-by and give my love to June. I'm going home -by Eddlescombe.”

In the morning a workman on the road came to the place where the bridge at Eddlescombe had been ; and he saw, below him in the pool, the wheels of Martin’s car being slowly turned by the leaping waters of the flood. Caught in a fallen tree below was Martin -dead. His neck was broken.

A WEEK LATER David Lynton went to June; and as she came to him she tx)k his hand and drew him to a seat. For a minute both were silent.

"June,” he said at last, “I’m leaving, but I had to come to tell you why.”

“Must you?” she answered softly. “Must I lose both of you?”

He left his seat and went toward the window, and looked across the river to the Hall.

“Yes,” he said, “and when you’ve heard me, June, you'll tell me you are glad.”

“Not that now,” she answered.

“This afternoon a week ago,” he said, “I passed through Eddlescombe, and men were shoring up the bridge.”

“Go on,” said June.

“When Martin left us late at night I heard him say that he was going home that way and, June, I let him go.”

“Come here," she said, and waited while he came. "We also went through Eddlescombc that afternoon,” she whispered as she faced the fire. “He knew, I think, what he was going to do. As we turned back, he said the men would never save the bridge against that flood. He told me everything, my dear, as we drove home. About that song he sang, and how he saw you on the moor. He knew , . . And he told me of the other things that something made him do.” “But, June," said David Lynton very slowly, "although I only guessed about the bridge if I had known I should have let him go.”

"Because of me?” she said.

"You know," said Dr. Lynton. “But not alone, my dear, because of you. Because of him, as well and children.”

I le rose and stood above her, drinking in a memory to keep. Then he turned and went toward the dix>r. Outside, the sun was shining and the air was soft with coming spring; and as he stood he heard his name

“David, come back again some day,” he heard June call.